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Session VII:

"Prisons and Rehabilitation: Current Conditions and Future Prospects"

Prisons and Rehabilitation: Current Conditions and Future Prospects in Latin America

Rosa del Olmo

Universidad Central de Venezuela


I. Exogenous Reasons for the Neglect of Prisons as Violence 1

Most conferences and studies related to Rising Violence in Latin America neglect the issue of dimension of prisons and rehabilitation in their agenda, despite the fact that it is one of the most important manisfestations of violence in the region. Yet paradoxically, the growing crisis in Latin American criminal justice systems has brought about the demand for strengthening it part of the project to promote effective gobernability, democracy and sustained development in the region. Democracy is illusory if it doesn´t provide the means to confront corruption, the abuse of power, impunity, and offer real human rights protection and responses to the citizens demands for an efficient public security.

Latin American specialists consider that the penal system includes penal legislation, the police, the judiciary and the prison system, but most reform projects have limited themselves to propose legal and judicial changes and to exclude prisons, although it is one of the worst sectors of the penal system. There are three exogenous reasons for this neglect.

The increase of violent criminality

In part, the tendency to overlook an analysis of prisons is related to the fact that Latin America is considered the region with the highest violence index in the world in its various manifestations (structural, institutional and individual) and where, since the eighties, the relationship violence/criminality and specially the problem of violent criminality in urban spaces has increased significatively -- see Briceño-Leon and others in this Memoria. Thus, stemming that rising tide of violence had teneded to take center stage, with a neglect of prisons.

The concept of citizen security

At the same time, we observe in Latin America the introduction of the idea of citizen security as a democratic concept guiding Governments policies and actions and the need for public security in order to create an environment for peaceful co-existence. In Latin America the concept is somewhat different from developed nations since the main objective is to reduce the former levels of arbitrariness of police forces which would be a threat to the newborn democracies. However the increase of violent criminality these last years and the growing sense of public alarm, reinforced through media alarmism and distorted assertions, has limited the concept to require from the State personal security to avoid mainly crimes against life, and property, preserve physical integrity and sexual freedom, i.e., what is known as conventional criminality. Such presures for action are closely related to criminality's fear freequently shown by public opinion polls.

Today, within the concept of citizen security two diffferent phenomena must be taken into consideration: criminality rates in a given society; and people's perception about its extent and about the risk of being victimized. Not surprsingly, people are obviously alarmed. Moreover, there is mistrust of the Judiciary. Thus only apparent answers are to demand effective capture, harsher sentences and more police. Thus, the notions of fear, risk and security have a close connection with the tendency to increase the prison population, disregarding the conditions in which prisoners are held, and the central concept within citizen security being that of the preservation and development of human rights of all the inhabitants.

The failure to view prisons as a Human Rights question

Thus, any discussion of the prison phenomenon is complex. Latin America's public opinion is convinced that those who are in prison are responsible of citizen insecurity -- identified and associated only with conventional criminality. What happens to prisoners is of little or no concern and any consideration that the issues be addressed as persistent human rights violations is ignored. In Cardia's terms (1994: 50) it is a form of moral exclusion.2 In her view, this is a dangerous symptom in the construction of a democratic society since it suggest the existence of a fragile citinzenhip which ignores the relevance of the right to physical integrity as a condition for social, economic and political rights.

Indeed, the most serious problem of the penal system is the systematic violation of the accused's human rights reflected by arbitrary and unfair practices exercised by those in charge of penal justice. The maximum expression of this is among those who are imprisoned, where all kinds of abuses are allowed. One of the main problems being the prisoners ignorance regarding their judicial situation and in most cases a lack of legal assistance. Despite the fact that all Latin American countries have ratified the UN and OAS international Human Rights norms where the rights of prisoners are clearly specified,3 and in most countries there is a penitentiary legal framework which follows closely the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the treatment of prisoners, there is little conformity with those rules in practice. The same is true for failure to adhere to national Constitutions, Penal Codes and other laws. The following discusion seeks to demonstrate that Latin American Penal System should be considered from a Human Rights perspective.

II. Characteristics of Latin American Prisons

While a full analysis shows interesting differences between Latin American penal systems and the need to evaluate them separately, nevertheless, the following overall picture can be presented about some common characteristics -- always recognizing, of course, that important data and statistical shortcomings exist.


1) The High Number of Prisoners without Sentence

In recent years the data show an unmanagable increase in prison populations, due in part to the following trends: to seek to solve any offense by preventive imprisonment; by the slow penal procedure and the resistance to apply alternative forms of sanctions; by the intensification of drug legislation; and by the adoption of more harsh sentences to counteract the citizen's security problems. Corruption and inefficiency in procesing cases also play important roles. Thus between 1981 and 1996, Costa Rica's imprisonment rate increased 23%; Chile, 36%; Ecuador, 25%; El Salvador, 83%; Mexico, 32%; Panama, 134%, Dominican Republic, 76%; and Uruguay, 145%, while in Colombia, between 1991 and 1997, the rate went up to 38%.4 Pre-trial detention is the norm in Latin America, and "prisoners without sentence" (awaiting trial) has become commonplace within Latin American penal systems. Preventive imprisonment is the rule, while incarceration as conviction is the exception. A high proportion of the prison population is made of petty thieves who often spend more time in prison awaiting trial than the time established by law for their offense, violating the legal principle of presumed innocence established in Penal Codes and following European tradition. Others spend long periods of time inside prisons only to be eventually discharged after having been found not guilty. Thus preventive detention becomes a form of punishment and what the law establishes as penal sanction for different types of offenses is not relevant.

2) Changes in the Nature of Prison Population

The majority of Latin America's prison population belong to the underclass, but changes in its composition can be observed by offense and nationality. Prisoners for property offenses remain the largest number, but there is a significative increase in the last years of prisoners for minor drug-related offenses. This situation is particularly marked in the case of female prisoners - with an average of 70% in most countries. This creates serious problems since prisons are mostly conceived for male populations and there is often a failure to separate. In 1994 at Venezuela's National Prison of Ciudad Bolivar, 18 of the 54 female prisoners were pregnant from male prisoners and prison guards, and 4 new born babies were found.

At the same time, recent drug legislation has often intensified legal, social and individual problems in prisons. Segregation of these offenders is the norm, but also they are punished very harshly and are exempt from any legal benefits, during the trial and once sentenced, in violation of national constitutions, and principles of liberal penal law and International Human Rights doctrine. Also, drug related offenses have led to a significant increase of foreign prisoners (the great majority come from neighbor countries, and are generally poor and unemployed). However, in the case of women, it is often European and North Americans who are prosecuted as drug couriers, who were trying to transport small amounts of drugs to their countries.

3) High and Rising Levels of Prison Overcrowding

Meanwhile, the system's capacity has not increased in the same proportion causing a serious overcrowding problem. Today it is not only a matter of "prisoners without sentence", but of old and deteriorated establishments with a physical capacity incapable of handling such a large prison population. In most countries, the State has not been able to respond to rising prison infraestructure needs, and budgets are iun decline. Moreover, for the reasons outlined above, prison reform is not considered a priority.

One of the worse human rights abuses come from the problems associated with overcrowding.This is responsible for the increasingly frequent report of mutinies, rebellions, deaths, inhuman feeding methods and widespread contamination by the AIDS virus. This combined with the fact that it is impossible to classify or separate pre-trial and sentenced prisoners because of lack of space.

4). Inadequate Human Resources

Latin American prisons face a serious problem regarding selection and training of prison staff. Often prisons are in the hands of military and police officers, appointed for political reasons, and thereby respresting a severe obstacle to professionalization of the sector. While in some countries an attempt has been made to create training programs for prison staff in charge of daily activities, this it is not the norm. Guards often appoint inmates to assume some of their duties. Inside most prisons staff negligence, corruption and trafficking of influences is observed. Moreover, there is a lack of technical services for judicial assistance, education, work, health, cultural activities and sports not only due to lack of qualified staff but also because of very old and deteriorated buildings.

5) The Lack of New Prison Models

Due to these problems it is impossible to consider classification and separation between pre-trial and sentenced prisoners and much less to think of any rehabilitation. The excessive amount of pre-trial prisoners, and their sharing the same space with sentenced prisoners, distort prison life. According to law they are not obliged to work or study until found guilty. Thus, conventional prisons have disappeared and, with few exceptions we can observe three pathological models of institutions:

Recently, one observes a new bifurcated model with the construction in some countries of Maximum Security prisons for big drug traffickers and political offenders accused of terrorism. Both groups receive very harsh sentences and are locked with extreme security measures. But there is also the case of those accused of terrorism who are held in antiquated systems, confined underground, never seeing the sun, (case of Peru with Shining Path prisoners). Big drug traffickers usually have all kinds of privileges including permanent visits and special food. An example was the famous Cathedral prison in Medellin, Colombia.

6.Coexistence of contradictory norms

An additional characteristic of the Latin American prison system is the coexistence of contradictory norms. These include 1) the written norms proclaimed in the official discourse regarding respect of human rights and discipline to achieve the rehabilitation paradigm, following the Standard Minimum Rules and national penitentiary laws; 2) the local prison staff norms which are unwritten, and are imposed by those in charge of prisoners' custody, and sometimes by other staff members. Such norms embrace favors, disciplinary punishments, bribery, special benefits, etc; and 3) the prisoners' own norms which are applied internally at the individual and group level, or towards the staff and the guards. These three types of norms are in permanent confrontation in many prisons, and make impossible any serious attempt at rehabilitation. It intensifies the level of prison criminal violence and the high number of dead and wounded.


The general overview presented does reflect the ongoing importance of national differences despite globalizing tendencies and orthodoxies, as well as the fact that despite some common problems, there is no correspondence with developed countries penological discourse and practice. The only penal sanction available is prison.

In Latin American countries, inmates face two types of punishment. The first is established by law and is often not applied. The second is not found in legal texts nor applied by courts, but is established by the daily prison living and applied by other inmates or by guards in the form of rape, abuse, blackmail, robbery, torture or death. Thus, to defend the right to life and integrity of the person is the only human right which makes sense in the penal system of this type of society. Survival is the priority.

"Prisons and Rehabilitation:

Current Conditions and Future Prospects"

James Louis Cavallaro (Americas Watch, presenter)

in conjunction with Salo de Carvalho


I would first like to explain my perspective, which differs significantly from that of the majority of those here. I am primarily a human rights researcher and activist, and only secondarily concerned with academic research. As a result, the focus of my research concerns human rights violations; in the context of prison work, my focus and that of the institution I represent, Human Rights Watch, has been on massacres in prisons and the absymal conditions that dominate detention centers in the Americas, particularly Brazil. Today, I would like to situate Brazil's detention centers in the Latin American context and then discuss the research done to date and that which I believe should be undertaken. Because Rosa del Olmo has already presented the main problems facing Latin America, I will only address the extent to which these same problems are present in Brazil and their relative degree of frequency.

Brazil has the largest prison population in Latin America, with 170,000 prisoners in 512 prisons, according to the 1997 Prison Census (which was released and then recalled) last year. Its prison population has grown steadily in the past decade. Nonetheless, the number of prisoners per 100,000 residents is in line with most of Latin America and is lower than in some of its neighbors. Figures for 1997 show the following:

Prisoners per 100,000; Year: 1997

(Source: Human Rights Watch, Behind Bars in Brazil, New York, 1998)

Rosa del Olmo (see previous summary) explained in detail how the aberrant use of pre-trial detention has resulted in overcrowding and related prison problems in four Latin American countries. Indeed, Human Rights Watch's recent book-length work on prison conditions in Venezuela, Punishment Before Trial, focused on this issue. Although pretrial detention is far too common in Brazil, the numbers are not as severe as those in many other Latin American nations. While more than 70% of those incarcerated in Venezuela have not been convicted, for instance, and while more than 90% in Paraguay also await sentencing, in Brazil, this figure has hovered around 30% in recent years.

Nonetheless, this problem would be significantly more severe if the police were more efficient in arresting persons sought by the Justice system. According to the 1994 Prison Census, there were 275,000 outstanding warrants in Brazil. Prison and police experts with whom we consulted uniformly told us that this figure is inflated in that persons for whom more than one warrant has been issued are double-counted while others may have died. Their views of the overestimation varies. Yet if we employ a conservative estimate of 70,000, or roughly 25%, the prison population would suffer an increase of about 40% and there would be slightly more prisoners in pre-trial detention than convicts.

Perhaps more worrisome than the actual numbers in Brazilian prisons are the recent trends which demonstrate continued growth of the prison population and virtual stagnation in new prison construction. In a 1989 report, Human Rights Watch (then Americas Watch) reported that 1987 government figures indicated a deficit of 50,934 spaces in the prison system. By 1997 that figure had nearly doubled, reaching 96,010. As of 1997, there were 2.3 prisoners for every space in the formal prison system. The number of prisoners per 100,000 jumped from 95 in 1995 to 108 in 1997.

In São Paulo, one of the very few states that has taken efforts to create new prison spaces, a construction program that is near completion has created nearly 18.000 more spaces. The principal goal of the program was to enable state authorities to remove prisoners from police lock-ups and jails and transfer them to the penitentiary system. In the two years since construction began, however, the state's prison population has grown to such an extent that the net reduction in prisoners in jails and police lockups has been zero. In mid-1997, there were roughly 30,000 prisoners outside the formal penitentiary system, the same number registered earlier this week.

Looking over the literature on prison conditions in Brazil, I reviewed two classic publications from twenty years back. Augusto Thompson's 1976 A questão penitenciária; and Cláudio Fragoso, Yolanda Catão and Elisabeth Sussekind's, Os direitos do preso, from 1980. I was struck, unfortunately, by how little the conditions in prisons have changed in two decades. Those authors cited a series of chronic problems, including:

Over a period of six months, along with my colleague Joanne Mariner, I researched conditions in forty detention centers in seven Brazilian states and the federal district. We spent the better part of a day (or more in some of the larger prisons) in each center. We met with prisoners individually, interviewed more than 300 of them, measured their cells, ate their food, and listened to their complaints. We also met with prison officials, state secretaries of justice (or prison administration), public security, prison wardens, police district chiefs, guards and NGOs working in this area. The snapshot of prison conditions that we reproduce in Behind Bars in Brazil (Human Rights Watch, New York, 1998) differs only slightly from the situation described by Thompson and Fragoso, Catão and Sussekind.

In sum, we documented abysmal conditions in the physical plants of most facilities, severe overcrowding (reaching as many as 40 prisoners in cells designed for six or eight men in some police lock-ups), institutionalized violence, including torture in many police facilities, inadequate legal and medical attention, lack of work or study opportunities, etc. Two other issues provoked concern as well. The first involves the infrequent use of non-prison sentences. (According to the 1995 Census, only 1.5% of those convicted received such sentences). The figures in Brazil are shockingly low when compared to those in the United States of Europe. The second grave concern involves the ever-increasing use of police lock-ups and jails--facilities designed as very short term holding cells-as long term detention centers. In some states, the majority of the prison population is held in these centers. For instance, in Minas Gerais, according to a state congressional report (CPI) from 1997, 82% of that state's prison population are held in police-run lock-ups and jails. In São Paulo, which accounts for about 40% of Brazil's prison population, roughly half of all inmates have been held in police-run centers initially designed for short-term detention. Naturally, these centers do not have the infrastructure necessary to provide work, education or anything else remotely approaching rehabilitation facilities for inmates.

One other issue struck us, although it was not the focus of our research. This is the issue of prisoner-on-prisoner sexual violence, which, according to numerous prison officials, has declined radically since intimate visits were first implemented in the 1970s. The effect of visits by both women and children to penal centers is worthy of study. Apart from rendering intimate heterosexual contact a legitimate possibility, these visits have and impact on the social dynamics of the prison: the social system is no longer exclusively male, at least for some period of time each week or month. What effect does this have on that social system?

Yesterday, Prof. Luis Rodríguez Manzanera referred to prisons as in Mexico as a time bomb. In Brazil, I think it is fair to say that the time bomb has exploded. The manifestation of this explosion are the revolts (rebeliões or motins) that have become, literally, everyday events in Brazil. These revolts often follow failed escape attempts and typically invove hostages (usually guards or other prisoners). In 1997 alone, for example, 195 rebellions were registered in the jails and lock-ups run by the São Paulo police authority.

While this number is shocking, I think that it would be interesting to address the question from the reverse perspective that several of you proposed in explaining crime the past few days. Instead of asking why has crime risen so radically, one might ask, why don't more socially excluded, poor urban residents turn to crime? In the prison context, one might ask, why don't more young, incarcerated brutally mistreated prisoners revolt? This question leads us to what I consider a significant gap in the Brazilian prison literature and one which has direct and important consequences for preventing violent tragic, revolts.

The question to which I refer is why do some prisons, jails or lock-ups explode while others, which may be more overcrowded do not? This question goes to the issue of prison and social system control, about which a number of studies have been done elsewhere. This kind of research needs to be done in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America as well.

Turning to research in Brazil more generally, one sees a relative wealth of legal studies that focus on the need for judicial reform (to reduce overcrowding through more widespread use of alternative sentences). In this regard, Julita Lemgruber of Prison Reform International (and now the Ouvidora, or Ombudswoman, of the Police in Rio de Janeiro) has written extensively and organized symposia and publications seeking to advance the use of alternatives to prison sentence.

Little research, however, has been done on prison conditions themsevles from an academic perspective. Indeed, apart from the works of Thompson and Fragoso, et al., and that of João Batista Herkenhoff (Crime tratamento sem prisão, 1987) most of the research on prison conditions has been done by NGOs. Even so, for years most of the NGO work in this area consisted of appendixes to more ample works on human rights violations in Brazil. In October 1992 after the massacre at the Casa de Detencão do Carandiru in São Paulo, a shift in this trend occurred. Human Rights Watch (1992) and Amnesty International (1993), for example, both released reports specifically about that tragedy, as did a special commission of the Bar Association.

Since then, there have been a number of institutional initiatives which a) criticize violations of the rights of the prison population, as is the case with the Relatorio Azul - the annual publication of the Commission on Citizenship and Human Rights of the Legislative Assembly of Rio of Grande do Sul; b) explore the process of "disincarceration", a project to implement alternative sentencing by ILANUD em São Paulo, and in Mato Grosso and Rio Grande do Sul by the judicial and executive branches; c) legislative investigation of administrative irregularities: São Paulo in 1996 and Minas Gerais in 1997 both implemented extensive legislative inquiries (CPIs) regarding their respective penitentiary systems. The work of the Núcleo de Estudos da Violência (NEV) of the University of São Paulo (USP) in the Dossiê Direitos Humanos no limiar do séc. XXI (SP: USP 1998) also made important contributions in the area.

To sum up, I would like to point out a few of the more glaring needs in this area:


One general theme in this research which I believe holds great promise are collaborative efforts between the academy and civil society. Often NGOs have access to information and advocacy avenues that academic centers lack, yet we do not have the research capabilities or expertise of universities and scholars. Prisons research is one area in which joint efforts could produce important results not only to understand Latin American reality, but primarily to act intelligently to change it.

Prison Violence and Prison Order

Anthony Bottoms

University of Cambridge


1). Since I do not have expertise in the field of Latin American studies, this paper is necessarily based on European and North American sources. In particular, the paper draws upon a major research study of problems of control in two English maximum-security prisons for long-term prisoners, and on a more recent review of the research literature on violence in prisons, commissioned by the research series Crime and Justice.5

2). The research studies discussed here were primarily conducted in prisons of the 'penitentiary' type, which are not the kind of prisons in which most Latin American prisoners are held (see the papers by James Cavallaro and Rosa del Olmo). Nevertheless, some useful conclusions of a more general kind can perhaps be derived from this body of research. That is particularly the case since the research has (see below) deliberately sought to ask fundamental questions about how order in prisons is maintained.

3). In this summary of my conference paper, I shall first discuss two specific research studies (one North American, one British), and then turn more broadly to issues concerning order-maintenance in prisons.

Two Empirical Studies

4). The first research study is (appropriately, given the location of this conference) centered upon the Texas prison system. Up to the 1980s, the Texas Department of Corrections operated a control system that relied heavily on two strategies: first, the unofficial use of force by guards and secondly, the so-called 'building tender' (BT) system, whereby selected inmates were assigned various officer-like tasks (such as being turnkeys or bookkeepers), and were also granted some authority over other inmates (such as the authority to break up inmate fights and give orders to other inmates). Civil rights-based litigation was successfully pursued by Texas prisoners in the U.S. federal courts, as a result of which the BT system had to be completely dismantled, and the abuse of force by guards curbed.6 The immediate consequence of this litigation, researchers found, was an 'authority vacuum' in which prisoner violence rapidly escalated, and there were record numbers of inmate-inmate homicides in 1984-85.7 However, within a relatively short time staff regained control, and violence levels reduced.

5). The Texas experience is interesting, in the present context, for three reasons. First, it is one of a number of studies that help to show unequivocally that prison violence levels are, to an extent, the product of aspects of the prison environment and of prison management practices. [Putting this another way, very often 'inmates behave differently in different prison settings'.8 Secondly, it is important to remember that the very high rate of inmate-inmate violence in 1984-85 arose as part of the unanticipated consequences of civil-rights-based litigation. Hence, those planning to introduce human rights-based reforms in Latin American prisons need to bear in mind the possibility of undesirable side-effects arising from such reforms (and, where possible, to plan in advance to avoid such effects). Thirdly, the entire Texas prisons story of the 1980s very well illustrates the fact that in many ways what goes on in a country's prisons reflects wider socio-political forces in that state. That is a point of potentially considerable relevance in the Latin-American context.

6). The second empirical research to be examined was conducted by the University of Cambridge Institute of Criminology in the late 1980s (see footnote 1). The research team was commissioned to examine patterns of social order, violent incidents, and official responses to violent incidents in two maximum-security prisons for long-term prisoners in England. For historical reasons, these two prisons had, at the time of the study, markedly different regimes. One prison (Albany) had a recent history of serious disturbances, and had in consequence imposed a deliberately restrictive regime which in certain respects gave prisoners significantly less freedom of movement than is normal in English maximum-security prisons. The other prison (Long Lartin) had a long tradition, of which the prison staff were proud, of running a liberal regime which had (up to then) experienced no major collective disturbances. The comparison between the two prisons was complicated by the fact that their inmate populations had somewhat different background characteristics (a matter of importance for likely violence levels). Nevertheless, the researchers were able to draw certain conclusions from the study. Neither prison was unequivocally 'better' than the other in control terms. Long Lartin's regime style was perceived as very fair by most inmates, leading to a strong majority sense of the legitimacy of the regime (and the consequent willingness by most Long Lartin prisoners to obey many of the prison's rules and requirements). But the regime was also liberal enough to permit the existence of a number of unsupervised locations, and the research evidence pointed to a relatively high level of "hidden" violence in these locations. Also, the permitted freedom of movement in Long Lartin led to the easier formation of gangs and cliques, so the recorded violent incidents in Long Lartin were more gang-focussed than were those at Albany.

7). In Albany, by contrast, the stringent restrictions on prisoners' movements ('situational controls') seemed to have successfully restricted many opportunities for prisoner-prisoner violence, and also restricted the formation of gangs. This had been achieved, however, at the cost of a marked perception among prisoners that key features of the regime were unfair (= loss of legitimacy), a perception which itself led to frustrations that sometimes manifested themselves in violent incidents. [Though the perceived lack of fairness of the basic regime was offset to an extent, in the particular case of Albany, by good staff-prisoner relationships and good delivery of services to prisoners]. Thus, experience in both Albany and Long Lartin pointed to a basic tension, in many prison regimes, between situational control and legitimacy. Albany's regime was strong on situational control, but weaker on legitimacy; Long Lartin's regime was (generally) strong on legitimacy, but weaker on situational controls.

The Problem of Order

8). The two cited empirical studies both show that generating smoothly-functioning day-to-day order in prisons is a difficult task. Moreover, social order in prisons is in some ways always precarious, and easily dissipated. These points have been noted by prison scholars since the early 1960s, within an academic framework that views the prison social system as in some ways a useful site for examining broader questions of social order in the outside community.9 In my view, this academic tradition has much merit, although obviously one cannot necessarily generalize directly from studies of prison order to issues of order in wider society. [Moreover, to maximize the potential of this kind of academic approach, one needs a more subtle conceptual analysis of social order than was available in the 1960s].

9). Dennis Wrong offers a self-confessedly simplified, but nevertheless very useful categorization of the three major approaches to the problem of social order in classical European political philosophy: 'Hobbes's solution was coercive, Locke's stressed mutual self-interest, and the Rousseau of The Social Contract gave primacy to normative consensus'.10 Wrong further (and correctly) comments that none of these approaches 'precludes or subsumes the others'; rather, in 'concrete human societies' all three may often be seen working conjointly and interactively. I shall illustrate these important insights (with special reference to social order in prisons) by examining each of the three classical approaches to social order separately, but also drawing attention to their empirical links with other approaches.

10). Prudential self-interest. Prison history in many countries attests to the pervasiveness of schemes introduced by prison systems in attempts to improve prisoners' behavior through incentives (e.g. parole schemes) and/or disincentives (e.g. punishments). Such schemes depend, for their success, on appeals to prisoners' prudential self-interest. There is now no doubt that, under appropriate social conditions, such appeals to human self-interest can have the desired effect. However, the evidence is also clear that in practice such appeals quite often fail (for the most recent evidence of this in the prisons context, see the evaluation by Liebling et al of the 'incentives and earned privileges scheme' introduced in English prisons in the 1990s).11 There can be a variety of reasons for such failures, including (as in the English 1990s scheme) a perception that the scheme that is introduced contains fundamentally unfair features (= loss of legitimacy).

11). Coercive control A control strategy based on coercive control is substantially easier to implement successfully in prisons than in outside communities, because restrictions on inmates' movements can easily be ordered in the prison context. The evidence is clear that such coercive controls can sometimes lead to reduced violence, through restrictions on opportunity. But the evidence is also clear that the introduction of stringent coercive controls of this kind can very easily erode the perceived legitimacy of the regime. Prison administrators wishing to maintain perceived legitimacy while also introducing coercive controls therefore need to ensure that when such controls are introduced, they are accompanied by positive regime features such as good staff-prisoner relationships (cf. para.7 above on the Albany regime; also Bottoms 1999, footnote #1 earlier).

12). Normative compliance. Citizens' or subjects' obedience to laws and regulations can be most easily achieved if the citizens have moral reasons to wish to comply. Such morally-based compliance can in principle be achieved through normative consensus or acceptance (see para.9 above on Rousseau's Social Contract), and such consensus is indeed accomplished (at least in part) in many social contexts in the wider community. Normative consensus between captors and captives in prisons is, however, inherently very difficult to achieve. But a second potential mechanism for normative compliance is compliance through acceptance of the legitimacy of authority in the social system in question (for a full analysis of the concept of legitimacy see Beetham 1991).12 Contrary to the views of some writers, our work shows normative compliance through acceptance of legitimate authority can and does operate empirically in the prisons context though it potentially always interacts with other intended control mechanisms such as incentives/disincentives and coercive control (see paras.10 and 11 above). There is also a small but growing body of empirical research literature (mostly in the context of policing) which suggests that fair treatment by representatives of official authorities in their encounters with citizens leads not only to improved legitimacy, but also to significantly improved subsequent legal compliance by the citizens who have been fairly treated.13 Translated into the prisons context, these results suggest that the perceived fairness of the actions of prison staff is crucial to the maintenance of order in prisons, a result that is highly congruent with other recent British research.

13). Maintaining order in prisons: a heuristic model Figure 1 (reproduced below from Bottoms 1999, p.490) offers a heuristic model for the understanding of prison social order. The model is in all respects grounded upon existing research, but it also goes beyond existing research in some of its detailed suggested mechanisms and linkages. It is hoped that the model provides a potentially useful framework for future research studies, and that some of these studies might be conducted in Latin American countries.

Figure 1 here.

Session VII General Discussion on

"Prisons and Rehabilitation: Current Conditions and Future Prospects"

Rapporteur, Paula Winch (ILAS)

The discussion centered on:

Prisons are a closed social system in which prisoners have created their own system of order. Official prison order vs prisoners' own order. Official system does influence and also sometimes "officially" allows prisoners to resolve conflicts in violent/uncontrolled fashion. The extent to which prisoners are left to resolve disputes on their own may contribute to the development of their own system of order.

Prisoners' perceptions of personal safety. There is a high level of assault even though perceptions vary greatly. (There are diverse ways that prisoners define "assault".)

To what extent do we care about the impact of different "regimes" (administrations) that run prisons?

Do we think that by looking at the different prison regimes we can prove how to lessen prison violence and crime?

Human rights in prisons-what causes better or worse conditions?

Prisoner "status"-power dynamics, social order. Hard to measure. Perhaps one could create a diagram based on qualitative and quantitative and secondary reading.

Key isues are:to


1 This summary edited by Peter Ward and most references removed. Please contact Dr. del Olmo for a full version.

2 Cardia, N, (1994) "Percepcão dos direitos humanos: ausencia da ciudadania e a exclusão social" in M.J. Paris Spink (Org.) A Ciudadania em construcão. Uma reflexão transdisciplinar, São Paulo: Cortez Editora, pp.15-58.

3 The human rights of prisoners include: the right to life and integrity of the person; the right to be free from torture or other ill treatment; the right to health; the right to respect for human dignity; the right to due process of law; the right to freedom from discrimination of any kind; the right to freedom of religion; the right to respect for family life; and the right to self-development.

4 Data are Carranza, 1997. (Coord.) Delito y seguridad de los habitantes, México D.F.: Siglo XXI/ ILANUD/ Comisión Europea.

5 See Sparks, R., Bottoms, A.E. and Hay, W. (1996) Prisons and the Problem of Order. Oxford: Clarendon Press; and Bottoms, A.E. (1999) 'Interpersonal Violence and Social Order in Prisons'. In Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, vol.26. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

6 Here see Martin, S.J. and Ekland-Olson, S (1987) Texas Prisons: The Walls Came Tumbling Down. Austin, Texas: Texas Monthly Press.

7 Crouch, B. M. and Marquart, J.W. (1989) An Appeal to Justice: Litigated Reform of Texas Prisons. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press

8 Adams, K. (1992) 'Adjusting to Prison Life'. In Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, vol.16. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

9 cf. Cressey, D.R. (Editor) 1961. The Prison: Studies in Institutional Organization and Change. New York: Holt, Rinehard and Winston

10 Wrong, D. (1994) The Problem of Order: What Unites and Divides Society. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press

11 Liebling, A., Muir, G., Rose, G. and Bottoms, A.E. (1999) Incentives and Earned Privileges for Prisoners: An Evaluation. Research Findings No.87. London: Home Office

12 Beetham, D. (1991) The Legitimation of Power. London: Macmillan

13 Tyler, T.R. (1990) Why People Obey the Law, New Haven: Yale University Press; Paternoster, R., Brame, R., Bachman, R. and Sherman, L.W. (1997) 'Do Fair Procedures Matter? The Effect of Procedural Justice on Spouse Assault'. Law and Society Review, 31: 163-204

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